China is spying on US companies, but Iran is targeting the power grid.
May was a grim month for American cybersecurity. First, the Obama administration accused China of hacking government computers, potentially to exploit weaknesses in the US military. Then, US officials announced that hackers, believed to be sponsored by the Iranian government, had successfully broken into computer networks that run US energy companies, giving Iran the means to sabotage power plants. This week, the Washington Post reported that Chinese cyberspies had hacked more than two dozen big-name US weapons programs, including the F-35 fighter jet, an army program for downing ballistic missiles, and the Navy's Littoral Combat ship. Not all cyberthreats are equal, but one question remains: Who poses the greater danger—Chinese or Iranian hackers?
To date, Chinese hackers have gotten more public attention, thanks to a February 2013 New York Times investigation of a top-secret government hacking operation based in Shanghai, and high-profile attacks, originating from China, on US media outlets. But experts point out that though China has greater capabilities for cyberwarfare and is actively stealing US military secrets, Iran's attacks could ultimately be more worrisome, because its hackers are targeting critical infrastructure and developing the ability to cause serious damage to the United States' power grid.